Women front and center of Japan's Asian Games team

Thu Sep 11, 2014 5:42am EDT
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By Teppei Kasai

TOKYO (Reuters) - Japan heads to the Asian Games with the team's top two symbolic leadership roles filled by women for the first time in what may mark a growing focus on women's sports in its traditionally male-dominated society.

Giving the roles of captain and flag bearer to women at the could be seen as a nod to Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's efforts to raise the profile of women in the country.

The issue of women's sport in Japan came sharply into focus in 2012 when the women's soccer team rode economy class to the London Olympics despite having won the World Cup a year earlier, while the less successful men's team flew business class.

"I'm very nervous, but I want to do my best," said captain Hiromi Miyake, a 28-year-old weightlifter who won silver at the 2012 London Olympics.

"The Asian Games is the biggest competition after the Olympics, so since it is one point on the road to the Olympics I want to do my best - and hope it leads to me being selected for the Olympics."

The flagbearer for the Asian Games in Incheon, west of Seoul, is Kaori Kawanaka, an Olympian archer.

Once an Asian Games powerhouse, Japan dominated the medals table from the inaugural Games in New Delhi in 1951 through the 1978 Bangkok Asiad.

China took control of the medals table at New Delhi in 1982 and Japan has battled neighbours South Korea for second place ever since.   Continued...

Japanese weightlifter and captain of Japan's athletes for the Asian Games Hiromi Miyake works out at the National Training Center in Tokyo September 5, 2014. REUTERS/Issei Kato